2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Manchester Corinthians – a pioneering women’s team that toured the globe promoting women’s football and Manchester.
The Manchester Corinthians were a team of local women who were brought together under the management of Percy Ashley at a time when the FA banned women from playing on FA affiliated grounds. Established in 1949, Ashley’s team toured the world promoting the sport and demonstrating what a dedicated group of players the club possessed. This was at a time when FA affiliated clubs were banned from allowing women’s games on their grounds.
Many of the Corinthians are now in their seventies and eighties but they still get together from time to time to talk of their exploits. In September 2019 I managed to arrange with Manchester City for some of the women who played for the Corinthians to be guests of City at a women’s game at the Academy Stadium. While there I chatted with a few of the women. Margaret Hilton, who now lives in Australia, told me her memories of a groundbreaking tour in 1957: “Bert Trautmann, the City ‘keeper, joined us on a tour of Germany. He acted as an ambassador and watched some of our games. We saw him around but I was too shy to chat to him. It was great having that recognition and support.”
Corinthians, representing England, won a major competition in Germany which was, at the time, regarded as a women’s European Cup – these were the early days of cross-continent football and UEFA were not involved with organising competitions for the women’s game. Anne Grimes felt that winning that competition in 1957 encouraged the club to make further trips abroad and to play in major stadia. 50,000 watched them in a game at Benfica and then in 1960 the Corinthians ventured outside of Europe for a tour of South America. It was supposed to be a six week tour but such was the popularity of the games that the women were asked to stay for three months. Margaret ‘Whitty’ Whitworth told me: “We stayed in all the best hotels and it was quite glamourous. There were lots of scrapes along the way. We were young women and loved every minute of it. We didn’t care about the FA ban, we just got on and played.”
Whitty had joined the club as an eleven year old in 1958 and was fourteen when she travelled to South America. Her parents had to give permission but some of the women also gave up their jobs for the opportunity of representing Manchester – and England – on the tour. Whitty: “What a great experience for us all! The stadiums… the reception from the crowd… it was all incredible but we all just took it in our stride. It’s only afterwards that you look back and realise how significant it all was.”
A second team was established by Percy Ashley as time progressed called the Nomads – it’s no coincidence that Ashley chose the names Corinthians and Nomads. Both these names had been used by prominent amateur male football clubs that had toured promoting the game and this is exactly what he sought from his women’s teams. He wanted them to promote all that was positive about female participation in football and they certainly achieved that over the decades. The Nomads and Corinthians would face each other regularly, raising money for charity and, to ensure fairness and quality, the teams would be balanced when appropriate.
The Corinthians and Nomads won a host of tournaments and trophies over the years and in 1970 Whitty was player of the tournament when they found trophy success at Reims in France. Margaret Shepherd, nicknamed Tiny due to her height (she was a tall central defender!), remembers the excitement of that trip and the celebrations that followed the victory over Juventus in the final: “It was a great experience and the celebrations were so special.”
The experience of playing against leading European teams was to have a major impact on the lives of the women. In fact, Jan Lyons, decided to move to Italy to spend more time playing football and ended up playing for Juventus for two seasons in the Italian women’s league of the period.
Manchester Corinthians survived into the modern era and continued to play once the FA ban was lifted – a ban they had challenged. The club was still going strong in 1982 but, due to ground changes and related issues it soon officially changed its name to Woodley Ladies, though was often still known as Corinthians. Some of the 1980s team members became players with Manchester City’s women’s team in its inaugural season of 1988-89. By that time the volume of women’s clubs, leagues and competitions had grown.
The club was resurrected for a period in the late 1980s, playing in Tameside, but it was during the period between 1949 and 1975 that Corinthians were true pioneers. They promoted the sport globally at a time when many refused to accept that women could play football.
Hopefully, over the coming years, we’ll be able to promote the club, its achievements and these pioneering women further in Manchester.
I’m writing a detailed history of women and football in Manchester. If you played an active part in developing women’s football prior to the FA ban then please get in touch by emailing gary@GJFootballArchive.com or follow me on twitter: @garyjameswriter or facebook.com/garyjames4
My book on Manchester City Women (which talks of the evolution of women’s football since the late 70s and the Corinthians women who played for City) can be ordered here (all copies will be signed by me): https://gjfootballarchive.com/shop/
Back in November 1995 I interviewed the former Manchester City manager John Bond. At the time I was researching my in-depth history of the club called Manchester The Greatest City (later updated as Manchester The City Years).
I met John at his home and spent a good few hours with him chatting about the Blues and his career. I loved doing this interview and was always grateful for the time he gave me. He was quite frank, open and honest – which delighted me because he was a great talker. He was also happy for me to quote everything he said in the interview. I did end up quoting him extensively in the book (and in others I’ve produced) but, until now, none of the interview has ever been heard by the wider public.
Now, for the first time ever you can hear the opening 17 minutes of the interview. Here he talks about the steps taken by City to appoint him; the interview (and the directors involved in that notorious filmed interview for the City documentary in 1980-81); the signing of Tommy Hutchison, Bobby McDonald and Gerry Gow. As I said earlier, he is quite frank in his comments and that may surprise a few.
This audio recording of the first 17 minutes of the interview is available to subscribers of my blog until 19th February 2021. If you want to hear it then please subscribe below. If subscribers enjoy this piece then please let me know and, if you do, I will release other sections of the interview over the coming weeks.
Of course as this interview was recorded on my old cassette recorder the quality isn’t the best but I’m working on improving that for future pieces.
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I did several interviews about Manchester’s early football history a few years back. Most of these seemed to revolve around the story of Hulme Athenaeum. This is one of those interviews which I hope subscribers will be interested in. Sadly, I cannot recognise which radio station I did this interview for, nor can I find the exact date I did it (I’m guessing it was about 2015).
I hope subscribers enjoy it. If you do I’ll post more like this over the coming months. I’ve lots of interviews (of me and by me interviewing fans, players, managers etc.) which I’d like subscribers to listen to – if they enjoy them of course!
Anyway, here goes…
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If you would like to listen to this interview or would like to read the in-depth articles on this site then please subscribe. It works out about £1.67 a month if you take out an annual subscription (£20 per year) or £3 a month if you’d like to sign up for a month at a time. Each subscriber gets full access to the 200+ articles posted so far and the hundreds scheduled to be posted in the coming weeks.
Recently, I’ve been sorting through some of the items my mum has kept over the years and I rediscovered my old Brother typewriter. My mum died during 2020 and it has been extremely tough at times for my dad and the family in general. I know a lot of people have experienced great sadness over the last year and my thoughts are with everyone who has suffered a tragedy during this time. It’s been a tough year.
I thought I’d got rid of the typewriter many, many years ago and so seeing it brought back many memories. It reminded me of some of my earliest writing on football and so I thought I’d share on my blog the story of this typewriter.
I bought this typewriter with the royalties from my first book – I can’t remember exactly how much it cost but I know I just about earned enough to pay for it. My first book was ‘From Maine Men To Banana Citizens’ (a pictorial history of Manchester City) which was published in April 1989. I’d handwritten that book! Fortunately, as it was a pictorial history there actually wasn’t much writing – just captions really.
As I’d handwritten the captions and posted them to the publisher there were times when they misread my writing. I had written the captions in capitals mainly, but my writing in whatever style is awful (at primary school my headteacher – an obsessed MUFC fan – used to tell me my writing was like a ‘drunken spider walking across the page’). Words like ‘the’ would occasionally read as ‘one’ to those unfamiliar with my poor writing.
In From Maine Men to Banana Citizens some of my writing was misread and wasn’t picked up in the review process and so I know there are a few ‘one’s where ‘the’s should be (if you’ve got the book see if you can spot any!).
Once the book was published and I spotted these I knew I needed to get a typewriter. Once I’d received my royalties I bought my electric Brother typewriter. I bought a Brother typewriter because they were Manchester City’s sponsors at the time and I wanted my money to go to a company that supported people I approved of (and some think sponsorship doesn’t influence).
I was still living at my parents back then and I used the typewriter to write my sections of my second book The Pride of Manchester (co-written with Steve Cawley). This book told the story of the Manchester derby and we could every friendly and competitive game from 1880 through to publication in 1991. As the book was really a game by game story of the derby I would type a page or so at a time and the typewriter meant it wasn’t too laborious – the laborious aspect was the in-depth research.
The book was published in 1991 by which time I was already researching and writing my third book – Football With A Smile: The Authorised Biography of Joe Mercer, OBE. I soon realised that due to the volume of writing each chapter needed and the amount of times I’d changed the flow/tone of each chapter that using a typewriter was proving to be time consuming. I decided that I needed to buy something different. My Pride Of Manchester co-author Steve owned an Amstrad PCW and this seemed to offer more flexibility.
I then used the royalties from my second book to buy an Amstrad PCW like Steve’s. It cost me about the same amount my typewriter had cost and my royalties had once again been spent – I soon realised that it was nigh on impossible to make money from writing about football!
The Amstrad PCW did make my writing life easier (until of course I could afford a PC – from the combined royalties of my Joe Mercer book AND my fourth book, Manchester The Greatest City, published in 1997!) although I had a problem with a damaged Amstrad disk which meant I lost the entire first chapter of the Mercer book. I’d been crafting it for weeks trying to get it right and then my own stupidity meant the disk became damaged. I couldn’t bear to start again – and I hadn’t backed it up (first major lesson!) – and so I wrote the rest of the book before I came back to chapter one. When I did write the new chapter one I knew (and still know) that it is not as good as the one I lost.
When I moved out of my parents’ house I took my Amstrad PCW as I was still writing the Mercer book but I must have left behind the Brother typewriter. I don’t remember ever seeing it after that until I rediscovered it the other week, almost 30 years after I last used it.
When Covid allows I’ll take the Brother typewriter to a charity shop and, hopefully, it will find a new life for itself. It served its purpose back in 1989-91 but maybe there’s still a bit of life left in it.
Who knows how many Amstrads, PCs, Apple products and so on I’ve been through since I bought my brother. Most are long gone, but somehow the Brother survived.
Following on from the successful project capturing the stories of the women who played for and the people involved with Manchester City’s women’s team throughout its 30+ years of existence, a similar project has now been launched to capture the stories of Manchester City’s fans.
I will be capturing the stories of the club’s fans over the next few months and you can help contribute to this great project. I’m keen to hear from and interview fans to ensure their stories and experiences are captured and retained for ever.
If you would like to help the project and provide your stories then please complete the questionnaire below and send it to gary@GJFootballArchive.com as soon as you can. Unfortunately, due to time constraints at the moment I will not be able to reply to all emails. I will certainly be reading every questionnaire and those stories will be captured for posterity.
In addition, I will be interviewing some fans over the coming months (sadly, this may have to be over a video service or telephone, although later in the year face-to-face interviews may follow). If you would like to be considered for interview then please complete the relevant section on the questionnaire.
Updates on the project will follow over the coming weeks and months, including details of how these stories will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of what it has been like to support Manchester City over the decades.
One important point to note is that I am keen to hear from fans of all ages based in Manchester, the United Kingdom and around the world. The greater the number that respond the better the archive of fans stories will become.
Please help this project and ensure the memories, stories and lives of City fans are captured for posterity.
I’ve posted 199 separate articles to this website so far and so, for my 200th post, I felt it was about time I paid tribute to the former Manchester City and England manager Joe Mercer for his influence on my writing.
Joe, as most reading this will be aware, was the most successful City manager of all time prior to the recent successes of Pep Guardiola. He remains the only City manager to bring a major European trophy to the club (though hopefully that will change soon!).
When I began writing my first book in 1987 my co-author told me he had been helped during his research into Nottingham Forest by Joe (Joe’s father played for Forest) and he felt that, if the book progressed as planned, Joe would possibly agree to write the foreword to our book. Sadly my co-author Keith Mellor died during the research phase of the book and the entire project looked in jeopardy.
After a while, Keith’s wife contacted me to urge me to continue with the book and she also gave me Joe Mercer’s address, suggesting I should write to him about the book.
I wrote to Joe and told him about the book Keith and I had been compiling (it was a pictorial history of City) and asked if Joe would be interested. I received a phone call from Norah, Joe’s wife, and she invited me over to meet Joe.
At that time I was about 19 and did not have a car and so I asked Norah if I could bring my dad – a passionate City fan. She of course said yes and we made arrangements.
Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, my dad’s car broke down and, knowing we could not let the Mercers down, we quickly arranged to borrow the only vehicle available to us – a white battered and bruised transit-style van. We drove to the Wirral and arrived at the Mercers’ street about 45 minutes early, so we parked up around the corner about 100 yards from their home. We had decided that we could not pull up outside a former England manager’s house in a white works van, and we believed we were hidden.
When we were due to arrive, we climbed out of the van, walked the 100 yards or so and knocked on the door. Immediately Joe, with that huge great grin of his, was in front of us. His Cheshire smile welcomed us in. He did not ask our names, he just asked us in. Within seconds Norah popped out of the kitchen and said: ‘You’ve been very naughty, haven’t you? You’ve been hiding in that van for the last 45 minutes!’ We all laughed and, as we were guided into their house, my dad and I explained about the breakdown and so on. Joe, being Joe, asked if he could do anything. Could he arrange a lift for us, or help get the car repaired. It was immediately clear to me that Joe Mercer was a wonderful man and his wife Norah was a terrific woman.
Can you imagine if we’d have said yes to Joe helping us? What would our neighbours back in Manchester say if we’d have turned up with Joe Mercer in the hope the footballing legend could get dad’s car fixed?
We spent a good couple of hours with Joe and Norah that day and Joe even offered to let us stay to watch the football on television. We had to return to Manchester, but it had been a wonderful afternoon.
The highlight in many ways was Joe taking us in to a room where he kept his scrapbooks and memorabilia. The ball from the 1950 FAC final was there and he brought it over to show us. It was an incredible experience and Joe was so interested in my book plans. He agreed to write the foreword – an incredible gesture – and his words in my first ever book remain by far the best part of that publication.
I saw Joe several times after that, with perhaps my fondest meeting coming the day after Arsenal had defeated Liverpool in 1989 to win the League title. The former Arsenal man was particularly lively that day and spent some time talking about the Gunners, George Graham, and even his own time training at Anfield. It was superb and I remember Norah telling us: ‘George has been on the ‘phone.’ It felt like we were part of something special and when Norah talked of George she just assumed we’d know straight away it was the Arsenal manager and not another George from down the road.
It’s worth pointing out here that George Graham had been brought to England by Joe when he was the Aston Villa manager and so that 1989 Arsenal title success meant a great deal to Joe. A success for his former club and by a former pupil of his. Of course, the fact Joe was a proud Evertonian helped too! I was delighted for Joe and, while at this time in my football supporting life I would ordinarily have preferred Liverpool to have beaten Arsenal that all changed that weekend. The joy and excitement the Mercers demonstrated for Arsenal was clear and I realised just how much the Gunners meant to Joe.
After the delays and various other issues, my first book came out in April 1989 (why we didn’t wait until June I don’t know!) and the trip in May to the Mercers had been to give Joe a couple of copies. They offered to pay – I couldn’t believe it.
By that time I had already started work on my second book and I also knew that I wanted to write something specifically about Joe. I reasoned with myself that Joe’s book would wait until after my second book The Pride of Manchester was complete. The Pride of Manchester was a history of the Manchester derby co-written with Steve Cawley. Steve & I were quite fortunate in that, thanks to the connection with Joe, we also managed to ask Matt Busby to write a foreword too. To have the two men who were, by some way, at that time the two most successful managers of the Manchester clubs write our foreword and introduction was incredible. We were eternally grateful.
The Pride of Manchester was due out in August 1990 and then I planned to get working on a book on Joe Mercer’s years at Manchester City. Unfortunately, technical issues meant that the Pride of Manchester was to be delayed by a few months and, as the new football season would mean at least one derby match would be played before the book came out, we decided to delay it a full year and include the 1990-91 season. That would also mean my Joe Mercer idea would have to wait.
Sadly, the last time I last saw Joe was on 31 May 1990 when I went through the wording of his contribution to The Pride Of Manchester. Joe had been suffering with Alzheimer’s for sometime and by this stage it had clearly developed significantly. I realised that day that Norah must have been under tremendous pressure, yet somehow she got on with looking after Joe. It must have been extremely difficult for her but, as she had proved throughout her life with Joe, Joe’s happiness was vitally important to her.
On Thursday 9 August 1990 the suffering ended. Joe was celebrating his seventy-sixth birthday with his family. He relaxed in his armchair after an enjoyable day and then passed away peacefully.
Over the months and years that followed I continued to visit Norah as often as I could. My idea of writing a book on his time at City still floated around in my head but I was disappointed that I hadn’t managed to publish it before his death. The delay to The Pride Of Manchester really upset me but I knew that it couldn’t have been helped.
When the time was right I visited Norah and mentioned the book idea. Norah, being as wonderful as ever, said: ‘Only do it if you want to. Don’t do it for me or for Joe. Don’t go to all that trouble unless you want to for you.’ She was pleased that I wanted to do it but genuinely did not want me to go to any trouble. I told her it would be a honour and she told me she would help however she could.
Over the next couple of years I spent a lot of time at Norah’s. Often Joe & Norah’s son David would arrive – another wonderful member of the family – and he used to laugh about ‘the old fella’ while Norah would tell me wonderful stories of how she met ‘Cheeky face Mercer!’
It was a wonderful period and Norah used to always bring out the sandwiches or a bowl of Scouse for me and my girlfriend. One day I arrived at her house and she insisted on pouring me a beer. As she brought it in she whispered to my girlfriend ‘watch his reaction’ and then she handed me a silver tankard. I looked at it and it was the 1961 League Cup Final tankard Joe had been given for guiding Villa to success. Inside was my beer! I tried to persuade her to put the beer into a regular glass but she insisted. It was the first (and so far only) time I have drunk from a major footballing award.
Early into my research for the book I realised that a book simply on Joe’s time at City wouldn’t do him justice. No matter how significant that period was for City or in my life as a fan, it was still only a small fraction of what he had achieved in his life. I soon decided that if I was to write a book on Joe it had to be his full biography. My publisher Julian Baskcomb – always keen on creating quality books – encouraged me to write the full story no matter how many words.
In the end the book was published in December 1993 and contained approximately 110,000 words (almost double the standard biography size at that time) and hundred of photographs from every stage of Joe’s life. A few weeks before it was published I gave David Mercer a full copy of the text to read. I’d agreed with him and Norah that they’d see the text shortly before it was published and, if there was anything significant, I’d change it.
David phoned me within 24 hours of receiving the text and had read every word. He phoned me and told me that I had captured his father perfectly. He became somewhat emotional when we discussed the book and, for the first time ever, I felt my writing mattered. I knew that I’d been fortunate in being able to write about a truly wonderful and marvellous man, and that the support of Norah & David had made this a great experience for me.
All these years on Joe Mercer, OBE: Football With A Smile remains the book I am most proud of; the book I enjoyed writing the most; and the book that I always want to aspire to with my new material. I remain ever grateful to Joe, Norah, David and the family for allowing me the opportunity to first meet Joe and then to write the book. I updated it in 2010, adding material from various parts of his life.
I continued to meet Norah over the years. David would usually pop in while I was there and we’d chat about ordinary things. Occasionally, Norah would say things like: ‘I told Jimmy about the book last week’ and I’d be thinking ‘Jimmy?’ then she’d say something else and it’d be obvious it was Jimmy Hill. Once during my research I arrived at her house and she told me ‘I phoned George and told him he must talk to you about Joe. Here’s his number.’ I was handed a piece of paper with Norah’s writing on reading: ‘George Graham’ and then his direct office number at Highbury. I contacted George and he set up an interview for me in his office.
The week before we launched Joe’s biography I was sat at home one evening when my telephone rang. I answered it. The voice on the other end said: ‘Hello Gary? It’s Bobby Charlton here. I’m sorry I can’t come to the launch. I’ll be in Kuala Lumpur then. I called Norah to tell her but she told me I must call you to apologise, so I’m really sorry I can’t make it. Is that okay?’
Me: ‘Er, yes. Thanks for letting me know.’
I came off the ‘phone and couldn’t get it out of my head that Norah had ‘told’ Bobby Charlton to call me and apologise. Even more impressive is the fact that he did! Norah was brilliant but if she told you to do something you did it, no matter who you were!
Around the time of City’s move to their current stadium I became involved in a few projects at the club on a freelance basis. One was setting up the initial museum and another was the erection of the Mercer mosaics on Joe Mercer Way. I won’t go into all the discussions and stories connected with that here, but one of the areas that I contributed to was the selection of the images for mosaic artist Mark Kennedy to recreate as mosaics. I spoke with Norah about the options and showed her a few I’d shortlisted that I’d used in the book.
We agreed that one had to show Joe lifting a trophy at City – the League Championship was chosen – and the other ended up a view of Joe from the back looking out towards the Kippax from the Maine Road tunnel. Although I loved that photo (it came from Norah’s collection and became a major image in my book) I wasn’t certain Norah would like a back view of Joe. I was wrong. As soon as she saw it she said ‘That’s it! That’s Joe! Look at his bandy legs! There’s no mistaking those legs.’
When we did the reveal Norah and David came of course and Norah thanked Mark Kennedy for capturing Joe so superbly, although she did say to him ‘That one with the trophy is okay; but this one with his bandy legs… that’s Joe!’
Sadly, in the years that followed first David and then Norah have died. Both were wonderful people who supported my work and trusted me to tell Joe’s story. They demonstrated what a wonderful family they were and – to me this is extremely significant – their warmth matched Joe’s. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that throughout Joe’s time at City and for the following decades City were often described as ‘the friendliest club’. Joe set the tone and direction for the club. He was a great ambassador for Manchester City (and the other clubs he was involved with).
Joe helped establish the Manchester City that many City fans fell in love with.
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There was an absolutely brilliant, emotional tribute to Colin Bell on the BBC’s Football Focus yesterday by ‘James Bond’ actor and MCFC fan Timothy Dalton. Everyone should watch it. It really was a nice piece.
Plus I was surprised to see myself later in the programme talking about Manchester City and the recent purchase of the FA Cup they won in 1904. The reason I was surprised is that I filmed the piece for MCFC and didn’t think the BBC would bother showing me and would just focus on the trophy itself.
I was delighted it appeared because it was so important the story of the significance of that trophy to Manchester is fully known. It was the point when Manchester became a Footballing City.
The BBC Iplayer has the episode available for the next 6 days. Watch it while you can:
I did an interview for the Blue Moon Podcast the day after Colin Bell MBE passed away. It was an emotional morning of course. The guys at the podcast have made the entire interview free to listen to here:
Following the purchase of the oldest surviving FA Cup by Sheikh Mansour I helped Manchester City with the story of the cup and its significance to Manchester. They’ve produced a video telling the story and it can be viewed here: